Disclaimer: I don't own CSI NY.

Author's Note: I am sorry, it's like 24 hours late. But I figure it doesn't really matter.

I am not sure I caught every episode of CSI NY, so I don't know if anything concerning character background was mentioned differently in the series. I sure don't know whether or not Mac still has family in Chicago. I usually like to stick with the facts, but here, I need him to in any way.

Also I am not from New York, haven't been there in quite a while, so I am not familiar with the current state of Ground Zero. I did some research on the internet but all I can go on are photos, so it might look a bit different from the way I describe it.

The inaccuracies supposedly disturb me more than anyone else but I apologize for them anyway.

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Snowflakes silently fell to the ground adding another layer to the already white blanket covering trees, roofs, side walks and cars. The warm light from the street lamps as well as the Christmas decorations gave it all a fairy tale touch and the peaceful quietness simply put an emphasize on it. That certain stillness in the city only happened the night before Christmas and Christmas itself but that was what made it so magical.

For once the busyness seemed to be replaced by calmness, the few people on the streets weren't in a hurry, instead they were laughing, strolling or fooling around.

Most folks were inside though, having dinner, preparing for the "big day" which would follow, making sure their children were tucked safely in bed so Santa could surprise them in the morning.

Here and there a little kid could be seen pressing his or her nose to the window anxious to catch a glimpse of Santa and his reindeers. The huge, expectant eyes would survey the cloudy sky but snowflakes were all which was to be found.

Taking it all in, Stella smiled, slowly walking past the houses. It had become somewhat of a tradition for her to stroll around the city's family homes on Christmas Eve. Her own apartment was empty but those houses here were filled with families, warmth and love. Rarely did she pass a dark place but when she did she wondered what the story to it was. If the people living there had already gone to bed, whether they were out or just not in the city over Christmas.

It was the one day of the year she willed herself to forget about her job, about the cruelness which existed, about science, about everything concerning every day life. It was her time to pretend to live in a completely different world, in a world of peace and love and it was what she had come to need. The reassurance that there was still a lot of love out there.

Stella stuck her ungloved hands deeper into her coat pockets as she came by a generously decorated house. She stopped to have a closer look studying each window carefully. A lot of dedication had been put into the decorating and every window had a theme. Skiing snowmen, Santa working, even Mickey Mouse and friends were present. A child had obviously been the artist of a lot of the window clings and the strings of lights were placed just right to make them look as if they were illuminated. Heart-shaped evergreen twigs were put onto the door, little lights intertwined.

A dreamy look crossed Stella's face. Her instincts had told her instantly that it was all about the kids in this house, that this really was the most wonderful time of the year for all of them. That everything was how it was supposed to be.

A feeling of longing overcame her and she knew it meant that it was time to turn around. With a last glance at the house she tore herself away from it to begin her way home.

She had put up some decoration existing mostly of candles and evergreen twigs. Her refrigerator was filled since, despite being on vacation, she was on secondary call for the next days therefore not going anywhere. She didn't mind and had actually taken the secondary call duty without Mac's knowledge. He would find out when he came back from Chicago anyway but she knew if she had told him before he might have reconsidered his vacation as well.

It had been difficult enough to convince him to take a full vacation over the holidays and she was still glad she had been able to. He deserved a break, a time during which he did not have to think about the lab and could relax completely – and what could be a better time for that than Christmas?

Stella smiled as she remembered the discussion about it, shivering from the cold. She quickened her steps a bit looking forward to the warmth of her apartment.

She would take a hot shower, put on her favourite sweat pants and sweater then would brew herself a hot chocolate, take a book and snuggle up on the couch. It certainly wasn't the ideal Christmas but it was a prospect which appealed to her and would keep her from drooling over her being all by herself.

She sighed, knowing all to well that it had been her choice. So many people had offered her to join them, Adam and Flack being part of them but she had declined claiming she was already busy. They had not questioned her further, had only told her to give them a call if her plans changed.

Mac would not have let her off the hook so easily and when he had suggested she come to Chicago with him she had needed more than being simply busy. But she had declined nevertheless.

His intentions had been the best ones still she hadn't wanted to accept his invitation, had reluctantly made up a trip to New Orleans. He had looked sceptical but had not pushed her in any way and simply had hugged her. It had been a long, strong and warm hug, a little longer than necessary, then he had looked at her with a warm smile. She remembered how he had actually pushed a strand of hair behind her ear while their eyes had locked and they had held on to each other for what seemed now like an eternity.

Stella recalled that special feeling that moment had caused. It had been comforting, tingling, confusing and so much more all at the same time and she still wasn't able to figure it out. Or rather her subconscious didn't dare to. It would be too consuming, too complicated and she didn't want things to change. Didn't want them to turn into a direction that might lead into a dead end.

She slowed her steps again, almost stopping, gazing at the sky, watching the snowflakes fall down towards her. She didn't know why but she felt like there was one last stop she had to make before she could go home, so she turned and headed into the general direction of a metro station.

She had been close enough so it didn't take her long to reach her destination. Few people were getting out with her and walking through a blanket of untouched snow she stopped in front of the site of Ground Zero a moment later. The construction rested for tonight and would for tomorrow as well so the place had an eerily yet peaceful silence to it. The falling snow only added to the mysterious touch the surroundings had on Christmas night in winter.

Faith aside, as a scientist she wasn't one to necessarily believe in supernatural but whenever she was here she felt like someone else was present. Today that impression seemed stronger than before and she found herself thinking that it wouldn't surprise her at all if ghosts arose from the ground. In fact, the idea was almost comforting and she wondered if people would eventually report that ghosts were haunting down the new skyscraper.

She had to laugh at herself and shook her head over her weird thoughts but quickly grew serious again. Absent-mindedly she surveyed the area, thinking of Mac's wife. She had been his angel, his gift from God and she had always looked out for him. He hadn't been aware of it, of course, and probably wouldn't admit it to anyone if it were mentioned now, but she had, just like she had made sure that once she was gone someone was there to continue to look out for him.

"That certainly doesn't look like New Orleans to me."

Stella turned in utter surprise staring at Mac as if he was one of the ghosts she had been imagining a few minutes ago. Moments passed in which neither one said a word and the snowflakes seemed to be the only moving objects around.

"What are you doing here?" Stella eventually asked breathless.

He didn't reply right away instead studied her with that thoughtful look he always had when something was occupying his mind.

"I guess the same thing you are," he then replied in an evenly calm voice.

She opened her mouth but realized she had nothing to say to that, so she closed it again. Uneasy she shifted her gaze looking over the snow covered area.

"Yeah…" She kept her eyes on the construction site for another moment before turning her head back to face him.

"I might be wrong but even though this is a huge city, too, the last time I checked it was still New York." Her voice was quiet but her gaze which held his steadily was challenging.

For an instant a smile crossed his face and he nodded slightly but again took his time to answer.

"I could say the same thing, you know," he remarked eventually.

Stella felt herself blush and out of a habit she let go of his eyes.

"This surely isn't New Orleans," Mac added keeping his eyes on her for his part.

Since his friend didn't know what to reply silence fell upon them. He studied her, her gaze fixed on something in the distance only she could see.

She wore a coat in a very dark, wine-like red with black fur trims at the wrists and a large collar. It appeared to be something the people in the 50s would have worn and she looked completely different in it. Being a guy he didn't put much attention to outfits. As long as someone was appropriately dressed for the occasion he was fine with it and Stella always was. Only now did he understand that, while he had already seen her in various evening attires, he hadn't actually seen her. He didn't really know what she liked let alone what suited her – but this definitely did. It gave her a certain romantic touch he hadn't been aware of she liked, at the same time it made him comprehend that this woman standing before him was a woman of many facets. And there were a lot of which he wasn't aware of yet. Even though it seemed like they had been friends forever.

"It's pathetic, isn't it?" Stella's words pulled Mac out of his thoughts.

For a moment he looked confused before he focused on her silhouette still staring into the distance. "Here we are on Christmas Eve in a city with over 8 million people, standing in front of a deserted construction site, staring at what used to be a place of complete destruction of one of the most tragic events in the history of mankind, watching how the snow covers it up layer by layer."

While she spoke she turned to face him and kept doing so now that she was finished. Her gaze was open and honest, leaving Mac with nothing to reply. He wasn't sure if she expected him to answer anyway.

He searched her eyes in the hope of finding out but when he didn't he let his eyes wander around Ground Zero himself. It was changing each day and while he had been a strong supporter of the new building, he wasn't so sure about it anymore. Of course, one had to show to the world that America's wounds had healed and that they could not be defeated, on the other hand, his wife together with so many others had lost her life at this exact site…

Stella's words came back to him and he recognized the sole truth which there was to them.

"I guess so," he eventually answered Stella's question with that understanding smile of his.

When he looked at her again, surprise was written all over her face. She hadn't expected a reply after he hadn't given one right away.

He wondered what was going on in her mind as she studied him before glancing away. For the second time she stared into the distance, appearing to sink deeper into her thoughts with each passing moment. Snowflakes settled on her coat unnoticed and Mac began to wonder if she was still aware of his presence. Somehow she seemed so very distant; so lost in her own world that he wasn't even sure if she was talking to him when she did so in quiet voice.

"It's so scary when you are here at night." She made a small pause. "Even though the debris it gone. The mere thought of how it used to look still freaks me out." Again she stopped for a brief instant. " – Yet there is something – something mystical, something surreal about that place… And at nights like tonight I feel completely drawn to it."

Mac didn't know what to reply and again wasn't sure if he was expected to do so. He tore his gaze away from her to look over the area himself once more. He knew what she was talking about.

Since the remains of his wife had not been found he had never bothered to put up a memorial stone at a cemetery, so he came here whenever he felt like he needed to be close to her.

Naturally there had been a memorial service but to him it was here that she was buried. Here and not the memorial site the city of New York had put up.

Surely he had gone when it had been opened, he had taken a lot of time to look around yet it wasn't the same. It was about the tragedy, not about his wife however when he stood where he stood now he could remember his wife and his wife only. That was the grave he could not go to someplace else which was why he had started to have mixed feeling about the construction during the past months. You wouldn't build anything on a cemetery either, why, he had begun to ask himself, build something here where in a way so many people had been buried?

A quiet breeze blew some snow into his eyes and brought him back to reality. Softly the snow brushed passed him and it was as if it made him focus on Stella again. She was still surveying the area of Ground Zero a certain expectation on her face as if waiting for something, someone, anything.

Mac watched as the light wind played with her curls. It wasn't uncomfortable, it was still a breeze but it had her hair dance in unison with the snowflakes. Some of them had frozen to her locks and were glittering like little crystals, others had settled on her coat making it look like she was covered in fairy dust from Tinkerbell.

Mac had to smile at himself when he realized that it was actually him who had those thoughts. Fairy tales had never been his kind of stories and nowadays there was hardly anything besides science that he believed in.

As if aware of his look, Stella turned back to him. She realized that Mac seemed to stare right through her, still she raised a brow in question. Sometimes he would catch it, sometimes he wouldn't. Today he didn't. He kept looking at whatever it was he was looking at and Stella shifted to throw a glance over her shoulder. Maybe she wasn't aware of something he was though there was nothing which could have caused his attention.

She waited to see if he would perhaps explain himself but that was another pointless doing. He was caught up in his own world too much, watching the snowflakes dance around Stella as if they tried to play with her. As if trying to paint a picture. And as if trying to tell him something…

Even though he had already been motionless, he froze at that though. It was absurd.

A stronger breeze sent the snow whirling up and all of a sudden there seemed to be voices whispering. He couldn't quite figure out what they were saying but he was sure it were words he heard and he turned to search for someone to be sufficiently close so their voices could be heard. Confusion was written all over his face when there was not a soul anywhere to be seen. He and Stella were utterly alone yet the whispering appeared to get louder, stronger, clearer. He thought the voice to be familiar and took a step closer to the fence his eyes wandering around almost hectically.

"Claire?" he called out.

"Mac?" Confused by him mentioning that name, Stella reached out for him and touched his arm but he didn't respond. Instead he called the name of his late wife again.

"Mac are you ok," Stella asked, tightening the grip around his arm.

Snapping back into reality he glared at her perplexed as if she was stranger. His eyes were searching her face and his mind appeared to be looking for a name.

Worried by his puzzlement Stella slowly let go of his arm. She rarely saw him as disturbed as he looked right now, in fact, she only could remember two times he had been in this condition. The one moment they all had had. That was the first time he had had to shoot a perp and with Mac that guy had happened to be still in his early 20s.

The other one had been when he had learnt that his wife was dead for sure. Stella had been with him at that moment and she still could remember the look of devastation he had had on his face. Even now it hurt her to think about the pain he must have felt.

Presently his expression was less devastated though, it was rather that of total confusion and disbelief.

Nevertheless she wasn't sure whether she should leave him, take him home or get him to a doctor. She was about to decide for the second option when he took a step towards. He was less than an arm length away and instinctively Stella felt herself raise her eyes to meet his. Neither one being able to tear away, they held on to each other, staring, building an invisible bond like they had this afternoon. It was like a déjà-vu only stronger, emotionally more intense. It was almost as if they were held hostage by their own feelings.

Moments passed in which they stood there simply staring into each others eyes. Moments in which the two appeared to sink deeper into their world; moments in which everything around them seemed to fade away; moments in which only they started existed.

Then a timid but warm smile formed on Stella's face. Dreamily she looked at Mac having realized what had happened so completely unnoticed and quietly over the time. She couldn't tell when exactly, couldn't tell why exactly, all she could tell was that somewhere along the way, she had fallen in love with Mac Taylor. Her best friend. Who still looked like he came from outer space and had no clue where he was or how he got here.

"Stella," he exclaimed his perplexity all too present.

He had the desire to say something, anything even though he had no clue as to what to. He was searching for words but nothing came to his mind. All that did seemed unsuitable or dull or both.

Stella's eyes which were undeniably on him made him even more nervous, something he rarely experienced. He hardly ever was at a loss of words and judging from the expression of complete incomprehension he had on his face, Stella expected him to ask her if it was scientifically possible to fall in love with your best friend. Or worse, tell her that for whatever reason it wasn't possible at all.

He did neither though and she felt downright relieved when she realized that he wouldn't. She started to doubt he would say anything within the next minutes and wondered if he even knew why he had called for her attention a moment ago.

His eyes wandered over her face aimlessly looking for something only known to him until he allowed them to meet hers. They locked and he stared into her green eyes as his features slowly relaxed. Little by little his lips curved into a smile as he became aware of what Stella already was.

Her smile which previously had involuntarily dissolved into anxiety returned just as warm only a bit broader. They stood there smiling at each other, being in love and enjoying it.

Hesitantly Stella reached out for him but wasn't quite sure if she should touch his cheek as she intended to. She wanted to draw back when she felt Mac carefully take her hand in his.

Their expressions turned serious but remained loving while he cautiously intertwined his fingers with hers. Barely noticeably he began to caress her soft skin, never letting go of her eyes. He tenderly explored her hand with his touch until he eventually had summoned the courage to take her hand firmly into his.

They both lowered their gaze to stare at their joined hands, watching the snow twirl around them like a magical charm, cherishing the moment of something that didn't seem real. Yet they could feel the grasp of the other one and they could clearly see that they were holding hands. Certainly, it could be a dream but all of it was way too real for it just happening in their sleep. And considering all the options there were, there was only one possible; only one they wanted to be possible – it had to actually occur.

With yet another affectionate smile the two looked up making their eyes meet again. They had done it so often, when talking, while working a case, during countless moments only this time it was as if they could see right inside the other. It was like baring their soul and it was anything but uncomfortable.

It made them feel safe and protected. Forever.

They were aware of the other ones fears and needs and they knew that it would work. Not because it had to, not because they could loose too much to bear if it didn't. They knew simply because they were able to see it in each others eyes. Because somehow they knew it was meant to be.

The wind seemed to subside and feeling the presence he had felt until that moment, gone, Mac looked around once more. As expected he didn't find or see what he had been searching for and turned back to Stella glancing at her absent-mindedly.

It couldn't be explained with science and he would always try as best as he could to suppress what he deep down inside knew was true. But Claire had undeniably given her blessing, in fact she had led him right to her.

Mac smiled at Stella reaching out for her, touching her curls for an instant. She looked at him and while she returned his smile he gently squeezed her hand, starting to lead her slowly away from where they were standing.

The snow swallowed the sound of their foot steps as they walked across the street. They were in no hurry and they enjoyed holding hands in that winter night. When the two reached the corner they had to round Mac slowed down, then stopped. Hesitantly he looked at Stella. She wondered if he wanted her permission for whatever he was about to do so she tried to hide her curiosity. As encouraging as she could she returned his look and eventually he turned to where they had come from. He took his time surveying the area, never letting go of Stella's hand.

"I love you Claire."

His words were barely audible but Stella understood them nevertheless and tightened her grip around his hand to assure him that she was there.

Mac continued to stare into the darkness and when he turned back a moment later he was ready to move on. They went a few steps before Mac did slow down again. Stella was about to ask what was wrong when she heard him murmur a "thank you". She smiled at him knowingly which he returned warmly then they headed in the general direction of home.

In a comfortable silence they strolled along the empty streets. The temperature had dropped considerately and the snow fall had increased but they only enjoyed each others company. Every now and then they stole a glance at the other one, their eyes meeting from time to time. When that happened they exchanged a happy smile, though neither one ever spoke a word almost as if they were afraid to break a spell if they did.

They had walked quite a bit before Mac finally broke the silence.

"Why didn't you want to come to Chicago with me?" he asked in a soft voice.

Stella knew he was looking at her which was why she kept her gaze focused on the mostly untouched blanket of snow in front of her. The answer was actually simple. She hadn't wanted to celebrate yet another Christmas with a family that wasn't hers but she wasn't sure if she wanted to tell Mac. After all to his family she was almost like his step sister and it would be difficult to make him understand how she felt. Or so she assumed.

"Stella?" Mac slowed down until he stopped and pulled her around so she would have to face him.

She closed her eyes for a moment to take a deep but quiet breath before she dared to look at him not avoiding his eyes.

"Why did you say you would go to New Orleans?" he rephrased his question, brushing a lock caringly out of her face.

His ungloved fingers softly touched her skin and while doing so sending a pleasant tingle through her body.

"Geez, I surely didn't say I'd spent the holidays in New Orleans, did I?" she then replied with a forced laugh meant to hide her self-consciousness.

She knew that Mac wouldn't let her off the hook and she wanted to gain time to hold off the obligation to explain for as long as possible.

"You said you needed to be some place where it wasn't freezing," he reminded her with a slight sly smile seeing right through her little game.

He had long known how cute she was when she tried to hide something from him which was why that smile appeared almost automatically. But he let it vanish as quickly as it had come, his expression becoming serious again. He studied her thoroughly while she stared at him, a thoughtful look on her face, pretending to try to remember her words.

"New Orleans?" she repeated. "Are you sure?" She knew he was aware of her little charade but she wasn't ready to tell him yet.

This time Mac didn't react. He only kept his focus on her

"New Orleans – come on." She gave it another try.

"There are worse places to be," Mac offered. He had actually not wanted to play along but she was obviously nervous and he wanted her to be comfortable telling him.

"Yeah… – But why couldn't I pick some place else? Like Naples or Miami? Or Key West. That would have been a place worth wishing to go to."

Involuntarily Mac had to grin at her words. Her eyes seemed huge when she had that innocent look on her face and it took him all of his strength not to let her off the hook.

"You still haven't answered my question," he insisted, not taking his eyes off her.

She on the other hand did so now and stared passed him. He had cornered her and the only options she had left were telling him the truth or a lie – which seemed out of question since it definitely was not a good way to start a relationship. And – she told herself – there was nothing to it. Except that her heart didn't think so. It was beating like crazy against her chest.

"I – I don't want you to get me wrong," she began hesitantly. "I love your family and I appreciate how they care about me, how they have accepted me almost like I am a member of their family and I love being with your family, so…"

She stopped in mid sentence since Mac had raised his hand to signal her to hold her breath.

"I think I see where you are going," he smiled taking her free hand with the one he had held up. "It has nothing to do with my family."

Stella looked at him, her eyes searching his wondering if he made fun of her. But all she could find was warmth, care and unrestricted love.

It gave her courage so she took a deep breath to calm herself down and finally told him the reason why she had lied to him about New Orleans.

"I just couldn't bring myself to tell you that with all the nice times I spent with your families," she told him, glancing away at some undistinguished point behind him. "I didn't want to hurt you and it really was not about being with your family." Her eyes travelled to the side then down staring onto her feet. "But even though they love me almost as one of their own, I am not and… I was… uncomfortable. After all the holidays and parties I spent with them I still feel like an intruder. But I was afraid I'd offend you, that you wouldn't understand me if I told you how I felt, that I'd upset you. And I knew you wouldn't let me get away with it if I had told you I'd be fine staying in New York all by myself." With those last words she raised her gaze looking at him almost as if she was afraid of what she would find.

He smiled knowing all too well that she was right about that last assumption. Yet the smile disappeared from his face as he studied hers wondering about the other times she hadn't wanted to join him.

Slowly he let go of her hand, lifting it until it was on a level with her head, reaching for her cheek. He was just as uncertain as she was and barely touched her skin. While it already seemed like a lifetime that they knew each other and they deeply cared about the other one, that kind of affection was new ground to both of them.

Carefully he dared to place his hand on her cheek, brushing his thumb over her skin.

"I am not hurt," he almost whispered. "Or upset. And I understand what you mean. –"

He let the unspoken words trail gazing away before he shifted his focus back on her. Subconsciously he let his thumb still caress her skin while he was lost in thoughts.

"I didn't lie to you before Mac," she answered his unasked question in a quiet voice. "I really was busy when I told you so. – I might have pushed it at times though," she offered apologetically when she saw is slightly sceptical face.

Once again he had to smile against his will. Stella had that effect on people, he already had found out about that a long time ago. She made it hard for someone to be mad at her for long.

Dreamily he continued to stroke her cheek until she gently put her hand over his. She pressed his palm against her face and for another moment the world stood still around them then their hands sank back down so they could move on.

They hadn't gotten far when it was Stella who interrupted the stillness.

"Now it's your turn to tell the truth," she stated, glancing at him. "Why are you here and not in Chicago like you are supposed to be?"

He returned her look but they kept going. Muffled noises were heard in a distance while Mac seemed to reflect on his answer.

"Would you believe me if I told you that I can't tell you?"

It wasn't that he couldn't because he didn't want to or because it was a secret he didn't want to share. He simply couldn't because he had no clue about it himself. Or rather because he had a hard time admitting the reason to himself.

She turned her head to face him. A moment passed in which she apparently considered this seeming to search his eyes for the right response.

"I would," she said honestly.

Their eyes met for the umpteenth time this night as silence fell back between them and they continued their walk through the snow covered streets lost in their thoughts.

"It was just a feeling," Mac all of a sudden went on to explain.

It sounded like it was only now that he had gotten it and he seemed to say it out loud for his sake just as much as for hers.

"There was something which simply kept me from going to the airport. I couldn't even bring myself to pack without getting the impression that it was wrong." He paused wondering if he had already said too much but when he glanced at Stella he knew that if there was anyone to understand what he was saying it was her.

" – And that was the same feeling which had me go to Ground Zero tonight." He admitted quietly.

With those words he stopped again and Stella looked at him, a meaningful smile on her lips. There he was, a fairly stunned Mac Taylor, the solid scientist whose scientific beliefs could not be shaken by anything, following a gut feeling, an inner voice which certainly could never be scientifically proven to exist.

"And now I know what it was," he whispered, pulling Stella back into reality.

She noticed that he was close to her, so close she could feel his warm breath on her mouth as his hands were holding her cheeks tenderly. Slowly he lowered his face even more and before she even understood what was about to come his lips faintly brushed against hers. The light touch had them immediately enchanted and as if hypnotized they stared into each others eyes. All they were aware of was the depths of the other ones eyes, a warm and tingling sensation washing over them. They didn't want for it to go away ever; didn't want a single thing to change.

In anticipation of what would happen next, Stella gradually shut her eyes while Mac's lips met hers again. More intensely, more daring but still gentle. Savouring the moment he kissed her, feeling her begin to respond. Little by little they intensified the caressing of their lips encouraged whenever the other one deepened the kiss some more. They were oblivious to their surroundings, unaware of the dropped temperature and the wind that picked up and started to play with the snow. All that existed and mattered was they and that irresistible kiss with that incredible feeling.

Neither wanted it to end, wanted to loose the touch of the other ones lips, all the two wanted was for their lips to melt together, wanted time to stop right there and now. But it didn't and bit by bit they pulled away from each other reluctantly.

Keeping their eyes shut, their faces were less than half an inch apart. They could feel the warmth of their breaths and a sensation of absolute content and safety settled into their bodies.

Fearing all of it was just a dream they were not willing to open their eyes and only because they had to did they eventually do so. Sheer emotion was what they could read in the other ones and that was what they were still lost in.

Minutes passed with them standing there, staring at each other, not moving the least bit of an inch. Even now the whole situation seemed so absurd they were afraid to destroy something if they did. As if if they let go everything that had happened would vanish with it and they felt the strong need of preserving the moment.

The wind had gotten chilly and despite herself Stella shivered. Mac pulled her to his body, putting both his arms around her while she willingly rested her head against his. He rubbed his hands over her back to warm her a bit before he held her close in his embrace.

"You're too small to snuggle up," she mumbled into his neck after a moment.

"Maybe you're just too tall," he replied placing a kiss on her hair.

She raised her head, a smile on her face then went back to her original position as Mac rubbed her back some more.
Enjoying the feel of his strong arms around her body, Stella shut her eyes. She already wondered how she ever had been able to live without that sensation and knew instantly that she would never be able to take a step backwards. Not that she wanted to in any way. They were meant to be together, that she was sure of. In fact, there hadn't been a single thing in her life she had been more sure of than that and with a happy and dreamy smile on her lips, she shifted her head to look at him. He returned her look his expression questioning at first until he became aware of her content features.

"I still love you, you know," she said lightly referring to her earlier remark but with mere honesty that didn't leave any doubt that she meant it.

Her unexpected and direct statement caught him off guard and all he could do was pull her even closer. She was so precious and he didn't want to let go off her – ever.

Stella remained in his arms for another moment before struggling free of his embrace.

"How about we go some place where it's warm and cosy?" she suggested. "Or rather where I can be even warmer and cosier in your arms."

She looked at him, her affection obvious and mirrored by Mac. Yet he could also see how cold she was by now so he put his arm around her, making sure she was as warm as possible as they headed into the direction of a busier street to catch a cab. Entirely comfortable Stella rested her head against his shoulder. It made walking a bit difficult but neither one of them minded so instead of pulling apart, they only slowed down their pace a little. The noises of a busy street came closer and she felt Mac's steps getting heavier. She glanced at him and could tell that he was obviously debating about something. She wondered if she should ask what was on his mind when he made that decision for her.

"I love you too, Stella," he admitted quietly looking at her.

If he was surprised to find her already staring at him he didn't show.

She searched his eyes almost as if she didn't trust her ears but there was nothing but honest love and tender care for her to find. Her lips curved into a smile before she snuggled her head back against his shoulder. With his free hand he gently touched her cheek, resting his cold fingers on it for a moment, studying her features with warm eyes.

"I really do love you," he whispered. It was more of a confirmation of his earlier statement to himself than anything else.

She had to smile at the amazement in his voice as he softly brushed his fingers over her skin. Her expression was that of total satisfaction and she shifted a little so she could look at him. She couldn't recall the last time she had seen him that happy and her heart skipped a beat at thinking about the reason for it. Slowly she reached out to touch his cheek as well. As she softly stroked his skin, he placed his hand over hers holding on to it, squeezing it caringly. He bent down to kiss her forehead and they allowed their eyes to hold on to each other for a brief moment before they continued on their way home.

Trusting him completely Stella closed her eyes, letting him guide her for a while. With a happy sigh she opened them again then took her head off his shoulder reluctantly. She was getting so cold she was shivering inside and couldn't keep the slow pace at which they were going any longer.

Pulling her coat tighter she crossed her arms in front of her chest. He understood and tried to warm her by rubbing his hand over her arm. It was also meant to warm himself a little since he, too, was getting cold.

They accelerated their steps, hurrying down the street to hail a cab. Fortunately for them it didn't take long until they found one. They got in and Mac was about to give his address Stella however beat him to the punch. He looked at her in surprise since he knew about her precautious rule not to have men she was involved with over at her place yet her reassuring smile told him that he was different.

And he was. He was whom she wanted to be the man in her life. He was whom she trusted with her life. He was whom she wanted to come home to. He was Mac.

Happy he pulled her close again and realizing only now how worn out she felt Stella let her head drop on his shoulder. Tenderly Mac rested his head against hers, watching the buildings fly by, getting them closer to a new year, a new beginning and her place which would be home.